"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!"
My father told that to me when I went home in tears one early evening. I sobbed to him about the horrid children who taunted me and insulted me when I tried to find a friend. I told him about the horrible things they said about me; how they made fun of the way I dressed and looked, how I was a drifter, a wanderer with no home. They made fun of the people who danced and sang for their petty change. I was hurt and angry. I never wanted to step foot outside the caravan, only to sing. It was small inside, but at least the people cramped with me were people who cared about me.
Papa lifted my tear-stained face and began to wipe my cheeks, tense and sticky with streams of dried tears. "Oh, don't you listen to them." He said. "Listen: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but word will never hurt you."
"Oh, Papa, I'm just so thankful they didn't use sticks and stones! Their awful taunts were awful enough!" I wailed dramatically.
He sat me onto his lap and explained to me that phrase, which would later become on of my principles in life. No matter what people would say about me, they were words, their opinions, nothing more. I would just let them slip in one ear, and out the other. I chose to stay strong, and I would scold myself whenever I realized that I was feeling sorry for myself. I would rather be sorry for them, for they don't even know me. Ha!
My credence began to waver when I began to work at the Paris Opera. I was so young, and in a foreign place. I did not realize how vulnerable I was to assault. The corps du ballet, where I began, was generally a nice crowd, save for the occasional snobby prima ballerina who happened my way. I made friends with Meg Giry, daughter of the ballet mistress, Madame Giry, and I must say, we were quite the pair. Meg was an outspoken, vivacious, spunky girl, which was the complete contrary to my own persona. Nevertheless, we got along well, enjoyed each other's company.
I always adored Meg. I loved the way she would always speak up, even though her mother would snap at her. It was amusing. I loved hearing her tell stories, be it about the new batch of students at the nearby ballet school, or the grand new coach she saw one of the new patrons riding, or even just about the daily goings-on around l'Opera, for everything was so animated. Her hands would flutter around the air above her head, as if to illustrate to me how things were as she saw them, and her eyes would sparkle animatedly and giddily. I just loved to listen.
However, there was one instance when I wished for a sharp knife to cut her tongue off permanently. That was when a backdrop fell while La Carlotta sang. La Carlotta is a Spanish diva who detested me, and I rather disliked, putting it plainly. I was pleased to see her tromp off, that flunky of hers, a nice, round man named Ubaldo, trotting behind her obediently, carrying her furs. The managers were quite vexed though, for it was the opening night of the house's production of Chalmeau's 'Hannibal', and as the show was still new, it had no understudy.
This was when I wanted to feel the handle of that knife in my palm. I saw a thinking glint in Meg's eyes. And before I could say anything…
"Christine Daaé could sing it, sir!" she chirped.
I couldn't believe she said that! I couldn't react. I was still so shocked. I was only a chorus girl! I couldn't do that! The new manager, M. Firmin, seemed to think the same.
"The chorus girl?" he said skeptically. I didn't blame him. I was skeptical too. Skeptical and mad. And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, Meg did it again!
"She's been taking lessons from a great teacher!" she piped. At that point, I wanted to strangle her, if the tight top of our costumes didn't already do the job.
Questioned M. Andre, "From whom?"
In the few times I speak, I always tend to make a fool of myself. "Er… I… I… I don't know, sir…"
M. Firmin seemed so exasperated! "Oh, not you as well!" he turned to his partner and exclaimed, "Can you believe it? A full house and we have to cancel!"
As if Meg Giry's audacious declarations weren't enough, Madame Giry spoke as well! "Let her sing for you, monsieur. She has been well taught."
I looked at my fingers. Yes, I have been well taught. It wasn't more on my teacher… I was thinking of me, and if I made a fool of myself now… Not only would I destroy whatever career I could have had, but I would taint the name of my great teacher! I didn't want that.
I almost didn't hear M. Reyer say, "From the beginning of the aria then, mam'selle."
I awkwardly jolted up and took to the center. "Think of me… Think of me fondly, when we've said goodbye…" I sang, if what the embarrassment I was doing in front of everyone could be called 'singing'. My voice was quiet and soft, most definitely not the sublime and reverberating sound he taught me to do, and I couldn't keep the ends of the notes long enough without wavering. "Remember me, once in a while… Please promise me you'll try…"
"Andre! This is doing nothing for my nerves!" M. Firmin cried, gesturing to me in a goaded manner.
I can tell you now that it was most certainly doing nothing for mine, except for frazzling them and giving them a severe beating. Nevertheless, I stood firm. I firmly told myself not to be swayed by his words. "Sticks and stones, Christine…" I intoned in my head. "Sticks and stones…"
I gained a bit of confidence, which in turn gave me a stronger voice. "When you find that once again you long to take your heart and be free… If you ever find a moment, spare a thought for me…"
I suppose they were pleased. Everything after that was quite the blur. A splash and mixture of colors, lights, sounds… And in no time, it was the opera's gala night, and I found myself in full costume. No longer that of the slave girl I used to play, but that of Elissa, Queen of Carthage.
"We never said our love was evergreen, or as unchanging as the sea… But if you can still remember, stop and think of me… Think of all the things we've shared and seen… Don't think about the things, which might have been… Think of me, think of me waiting, silent and resigned… Imagine me, trying too hard to put you from my mind… Recall those days, look back on all those times, think of the things we'll never do… There will never be a day when I won't think of you…"
I never felt so good in my life. Cheers, applause, bravos!
I was on air as I returned to my dressing room. I was thinking about that night, about all the things I would tell him, my great tutor… About the viscount in the manager's box, whose cheers were prominent… I wondered…
I sat down and breathed an exhilarated sigh.
"Brava… Brava… Bravissimi…" went a voice.
"Angel!" I exclaimed with delight. "Did you see? Did you hear the people cheer? Did you see how wonderful their applause came? They greeted me spectacularly!"
"Because you were spectacular, my pet." He said, his mellifluous voice filling the room like music. "Under my tutelage, my dear Christine, you will not only be hearing the cheers and applause of mortal man, but of the flapping of the wings of the angels who come down from the sky! Their tears will fall when they bear witness to the sparkle of your voice! You did beautifully."
"I sang for you."
"Thank you. No emperor has ever received so great a gift."
A moment of silence passed between us. His musical voice still rang around my small dressing room.
"You are blossoming before my eyes, Christine Daaé. No longer are you the chorus girl who would weep to me during lessons, the one who felt inferior, low, because of the clucking of that La Carlotta, and of the managers who should not even think to dabble in the arts, for they do not know better! Now, you are a diva. You take the center, you take the glory, it is yours!"
I smiled when he mentioned those times when I would cry to him. I felt a bit like laughing at that Christine, for being so weak and easily daunted. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…" I whispered to myself with a smile.
"My Christine, no one will hurt you anymore. Nothing will hurt you. You are safe."
I smiled, for I knew that every word he said was true. And now, though all has been said and done, the rickety-rack of the wheels of the De Chagny carriage prompted the fortnight before… Well…
"Erik," I said to him, no longer calling him 'Angel'.
He looked at me, his mask a blank expression, but I could feel the emotion radiate from him with his words.
"What is it, Christine?"
I had to look away. I couldn't tell him. He shattered the reality I knew. I remembered his words clearly, for they cut me like a stiletto to the throat. I am not an Angel, nor a genius, nor a ghost… I… I am Erik. I felt like such a child, falling into his labyrinth of deceit. I didn't realize that tears began to roll down my cheeks. I must have been that numb.
He may not have been the Angel I though him to be, but somehow, he was still able to read me. "I did not want to lie to you, Christine. Every time you would call me 'Angel', I felt that you did not love me, but only the Angel of Music. The Angel you grew up believing in…" An awkward pause.
"Do you love me, Christine?"
I couldn't bear to turn him down, yet I could not find it in my heart to say 'yes'.
"I'm tired, Erik. I need to sleep and rest."
Immediately, he exclaimed. "Oh yes! Of course, you must. How inconsiderate of me. It must be very late. Please excuse me, Christine, I'm more accustomed to the night and I forget that you are not!" He ushered me to the bedroom, as I thanked my stars he left that discomfited topic. "Please, get some rest. You will need your strength."
"Thank you, Erik." I murmured, without even looking at him.
"Good night. We will talk tomorrow." He said as he left.
I sighed and plopped myself on the bed. I kept on thinking about our conversation. Did I hurt him? Fairly so, I figured. I placed myself in his shoes, and realized that words unspoken could hurt as much as those that escape. I buried my head on my pillow and tried my best not to breathe. I felt rotten. I told myself to never offend him again. At least, I would try…
I love Raoul, though, Erik, you know that... I knew you loved me the moment you sent me off with him. As I got into his carriage, I knew you were watching. It was hard for me to feel happy, when I knew you were wretched with pain. Raoul was able to sense this, and his words provided comfort. "In the long run," he said. "Erik would want you to be happy. He wouldn't want you distress over him. I think that's the last thing he ever wants to do: To cause you pain. Maybe this is why he freed the two of us."
I felt as if you sent that message through Raoul, Erik. It provided me comfort and strength. Raoul's words were your words, I knew it. It kept me strong, it kept me fighting. Fighting for you.
I reflected upon what Raoul said. I think that's the last thing he ever wants to do: To cause you pain. Maybe this is why he freed the two of us. As I walk now, to fulfill a promise, I realized something.
The last thing you ever did was cause me pain, so much pain.
When you made me promise to bury you when you were dead, that hurt. I did not want to think of you dying. But now, as I cross the lake from the Rue Scribe side, just as you said, I did not feel hurt, but fulfillment. The last thing I get to do for you is to fulfill a promise I made, and that made me feel a bit better inside.
But the biggest pain of all came when the papers came, when I received word that it was time for me to fulfill that promise. I knew you had that put out in the Epoque. And at that moment, I cried tears of sorrow and hate for you.
"Erik is dead." It said so simply.
Once upon a time, my father taught me that 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.'
Erik, I would rather endure the sticks, and the stones, and fire and ice of the vengeance of hell, rather than those three words, which will hurt me for the rest of my life.